To benefit from mobile BPM, keep it simple and avoid 'human-centric' pitfalls

Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, Steve Weissman, principal analyst for the Holly Group, speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about the benefits and challenges of keeping mobile users connected to critical business processes. In Part I, Weissman provides a mobile BPM overview, exploring the approach's growth in today’s business landscape. Here, in Part II, he explains how to sidestep mobile BPM’s single greatest pitfall and shares a surprisingly simple example of real-world success. This interview, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Let’s drill down into mistakes and pitfalls. What are some of the most obvious and clear ones that companies need to avoid with mobile BPM?

Weissman:
If I had to wrap it all up in a neat package, I'd probably put on the card attached to the package the word "governance.”

[That is:] Who's responsible? Who owns this process? Who's responsible for maintaining and securing the devices? Who's responsible for the policies governing access and participation in the process?

“Governance” covers all kinds of things, but it's when those things aren't adequately addressed, I find, that a lot of applications don't work as effectively or satisfactorily as you might wish. It rarely is a technology problem.

Mobile devices do break. Hardware can, and does, fail. But by and large, the reason a process will not succeed has nothing to do with that. It's unlikely that the software crashes so often that it becomes an issue. So the real pitfalls to watch out for are the human-centric ones. It's the governance, ultimately, of the people and this new class of user; you can't just go to their cubicle and bang on their foreheads and say, “Don’t do that anymore.” These chickens are roaming freely throughout the range. You’ve got to figure out a way to imprint them properly so that this works the way you needed to work and doesn't invite the entire world into it.

ebizQ: Let’s move this into the real world. What examples have you come across of companies successfully doing mobile BPM?

Weissman:
There's an example I want to give that I'm going to draw on intentionally because it's probably not what you're thinking. The real good ones I probably shouldn't talk about because I promised I wouldn't; there’s real competitive advantage when you do this right.

But I think this one's an important one because it's potentially much more universal. When we think of mobile processes and mobile devices and mobile users, what pops into my head is a scenario that involves salespeople or insurance agents or business executives running all over creation with a smartphone or a tablet or something connected getting what they need. Maybe they have a corporate app installed; maybe it's a web-based application that they can get that through some kind of interface on their devices—all these fancy things that we keep talking about.

This one is brilliant in its simplicity. It's wholly mobile and it involves none of that.

What it involves is texting and the tools that are available now, some of them at very low cost, if not for free, for small groups. The ability to, for instance, take polls or do research and capture basic information by texting your responses to a particular number at a website, or perhaps internally, where the back end counts up the votes and allows you to do the analysis that you need to do.

So imagine a corporate setting where you're dealing with people that may not be the most technically savvy or you may not have the budget or you have this problem with so many different platforms you can begin to think about how to embrace them. If it's the kind of exercise as often occurs when you're mapping out of a business process, where you're really just asking a bunch of questions—or maybe it's a survey and you got a fixed number of choices of responses—you can use texting for that.

Almost everybody who has a mobile phone has text these days. But it's not true that most everybody who has a mobile phone has a smartphone. That's a really big difference that I myself didn't fully appreciate until recently I was at a meeting where the technology got used and I thought, “This is very smart.” It's a low common denominator to be sure. You're not going to do the fanciest things with this kind of technology because of the inherent limitations.

But if you're just looking to capture some basic information, or you're doing some kind of research in the field where there's not much of an infrastructure, or it's a very consumer-oriented activity—texting in the answers is probably just fine. So it's low-tech, but it's wholly mobile and that's why I was really captivated by it. It works, and it's very low-cost.



About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

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